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Orient students return to newly renovated school

ORIENT, Wash. - Students in the Orient School District are no longer eating out of an old Tavern or learning elbow-to-elbow inside a donated home; their newly-renovated 1910 school opened Monday.

For a year now, the students and staff of the Orient School District have had to make due. They did it knowing the payoff would be life-changing.

"The year wasn't so bad, actually, because we had our mind set around what we were going to do," Orient School District Principal Tara Holmes said. "It taught us some lessons about simplifying your life."

Orient students return to newly renovated school

It's been a long year and that's putting it simply. The 38 students pushed through the last school year though, which has essentially earned them the right to claim their 101-year-old school with brand new guts as their own.

"It is so for the children of this community, they deserve it, we haven't had this building remodeled in 60 years," Holmes said.

The students, kindergarten through 8th grade, were buzzing with excitement Monday morning at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. As they entered the school the reality of what had been done for them hit. The school was so new, many of them didn't know how an intercom system worked.

"I think it's really good," first grader Logyn said.

"It actually has good plumbing," Emma said.

Many of the students couldn't believe how much space they had. What was once a dilapidated gym with ply-wood blocking broken windows is now a shiny, new gym complete with a locally-designed logo. They have basketball hoops, too, and cannot wait to begin team sports.

Many take for granted the small things that are making life easier for the staff and students of the Orient School District; like clocks that all tell the same time. Before, the battery-powered clocks would slowly run out of juice and begin telling different times. And for the first time in seven years, Principal Holmes has an office – with windows.

The biggest and possibly most exciting change for the school is their new cafeteria and kitchen. School cook Diana Behrens, a 30-year pro, had worked in the old kitchen, which had dirt floors in some places. Then, she was handed the task of making an old tavern (formerly The Orient Inn) a suitable cafeteria.

"It has been a long time since I've been in a kitchen where everything might work, you can actually plus two things in at the same time and not figure which breaker you're going to flip," Behrens said.

As she fed the kids in the tavern her homemade rolls, sometimes having to fight off mice, frogs and a few snakes to make it happen, she wouldn't allow herself to look at the new kitchen. She didn't want to get too excited in case of a disappointment. The closer October 1st came though, the more she allowed herself to imagine an easier life as a cook.

"Really excited, I've been bugging them for quite a while like 'let me in, let me in, let me in'," Behrens said chuckling.

She can't decide which piece of the new kitchen is her favorite; the walk-in freezer, the dishwasher?

"It's so fancy, so nice, so new," she remarked.

The new classrooms are spotless or 'like a hospital' as one student remarked. The excitement and wonderment Gretchen Cruden's students exude is what makes her emotional.

"When we went downstairs and saw the water bottle refiller and how that worked [they said] 'this is so big city, I can't... wow!' they were just blown away," Cruden said.